- Step 1. Bring body to seat
- Step 2. Bring mind to body
- Step 3. Refocus when lost
- Step 4. Come back gently
- Step 5. Hold this feeling
Here are five simple (but not easy: that only comes with practice ;) steps to training in meditation, distilled from my meditation teacher at my workplace and also from Buddhist monks whose lectures have rescued me in the darkest of times:
Does Meditation Affect Cellular Aging? — Dr. Dean Ornish showed that his plant-based diet, exercise, and stress management intervention could in effect reverse the aging of our DNA. What effect might the stress management component have had?
How to Strengthen the Mind-Body Connection — Slow-paced breathing at the right frequency can result in a vagal nerve activation, which may have a variety of beneficial effects.
Bring the body to a seat. Sit comfortably. When starting, use a pillow/cushion or sit with your back against the wall if you need to.
Bring the mind to the body. The goal is to bring your awareness to the present moment, here and now. Some techniques to achieve this are as follows (try all of them initially, one per each sitting, until you find what works for you; different people find different ones easier):
- When you breathe in, say to yourself “I am breathing in”.
- When you breathe out, say to yourself “I am breathing out”.
- When you breathe in, follow your in-breath all the way through.
- When you breathe out, follow your out-breath all the way through.
But make sure that your breathing is natural: don’t control it! Let your body breathe naturally however it wants because your goal is only to observe/notice/be aware of the present moment. If it breathes slow and deep, let it. Fast and shallow, let it. Pauses breathing sometimes, let it. Sharply inhales, let it. :)
And “following your breath” means to be aware of it through time: notice how it feels as it begins, rises, peaks, falls, and stops?
Notice the physical sensation on the skin inside your nostrils as you breathe in (cooler air) and breathe out (warmer air). You can also notice your belly rise and fall as you breathe in and out, like a wave.
With your palms open and facing up, what can you physically feel in the palms of your hands that prove to you that your hands exist? For example, it may be the warmth in your palms, or the air in the room circulating over your palms (mixing with warmth), or the pulse in your fingertips, or the feeling of blood rushing through veins in your hands.
When your thoughts and feelings take your focus away (and they will—even for the greatest Zen masters! The goal isn’t to have 100% perfect focus but instead to build resilience: to bring the mind back to focus) simply notice that your mind has wandered and then bring it back to the physical sensation. This is the actual training of meditation practice.
When you are ready to stop meditating (when your timer bell rings):
Stay in meditation. Do not abruptly stop and continue with life.
Gently move your fingers and toes, as if you don’t want anybody to notice that you are moving them, and sit up to straighten your posture.
Slowly open your eyes and then gaze at the floor in front of you. Now, stay here with the feeling of meditation (peaceful, calm, still) even though your eyes are open. If you lost the feeling as soon as your eyes were opened, that’s okay, don’t panic: keep your eyes open and refocus your mind on the physical sensation you were focusing on.
Take one final deep breath, in and out. You just did meditation! :)
Notice how you feel now (peaceful, calm, still) in both body and mind. This is the “feeling of meditation”, which you must hold onto / carry with you now through the rest of the day. Just like a muscle becomes stronger and can lift heavier weight as one trains in weight lifting, so does the mind become more adept and proficient at bringing up that feeling of meditation whenever you need it (it’s experiential wisdom).
You can do it! Good luck and have fun.